“You may have heard the news that the independent bookstore is dead, that books are dead, that maybe even reading is dead—to which I say: Pull up a chair, friend. I have a story to tell.”
Ann Patchett, “The Bookstore Strikes Back”
You might know Ann Patchett from her bestselling novel Bel Canto. But did you know that when her hometown, Nashville TN, lost its last bookstore, Patchett and two friends decided to open their own? Named after the Greek mythological mountain home to, among other things, literature, learning, and music, Parnussus Books has proved that people still buy books. In 2011, with only a name and a business plan, Patchett set off on her book tour for State of Wonder, intending to promote the new bookstore just as much, if not more than the book.
Before Bel Canto and even before The Patron Saint of Liars, Patchett wrote nonfiction articles for magazines. Some well-respected ones, others not as much. Here’s where things get interesting. Patchett employed a tactic she learned while writing for fashion magazines. Because issues take three months to go to press, it is almost impossible to predict what the latest trend will be when the issue is finally out. Therefore, the editors just decide what the trend is and go with it. Ann Patchett decided in 2011 that trend was “independent bookstores” and go with it she did. At each appearance she hyped up bookstores and books. As she writes about in her Atlantic article “The Bookstore Strikes Back” (also published in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage), Patchett benefited greatly from the “Colbert bump” and orders for State of Wonder soared after she appeared on The Colbert Report.
While I can go on and on about Parnussus Books, another interesting fact about Ann Patchett is her relationship with the poet and memoirist Lucy Grealy. Patchett met Grealy when they were undergraduates at Sarah Lawrence, but didn’t really become friends with her until they moved in together while attending the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. After Grealy’s death, Patchett wrote a memoir of their friendship called Truth and Beauty. Lyrical and haunting, Patchett reflects on the young woman they once were and how their friendship evolved over the years.
World renowned opera singer Roxanne Coss has just finished giving a performance honoring a Japanese CEO at the Vice President’s house in an unnamed South American country. Suddenly terrorists break in taking everyone hostage except their intended target-the President. You see, at the last minute the President stayed home to watch his favorite soap opera. The CEO, Mr. Hosokawa is Coss’s biggest fan, he may even be in love with her, but then again, so is everyone at the gathering. From the Russian diplomats to the teenage terrorists, Roxanne Coss has charmed them all. The common thread is Gen, Mr. Hosokawa’s translator. We see how the hostages spend their days and forge relationships through his conversations. In time the hostage situation begins to seem normal for those involved-until, of course, the rescue operation occurs. Rich and imaginative, Ann Patchett knocks it out of the park.
State of Wonder
A researcher at the pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh, is sent to the Amazon to investigate the death of her colleague Anders-who was originally sent to check the progress of Dr. Annick Swenson but hasn’t been heard from for a couple of years. Marina has mixed feelings about this trip; she’s upset about the loss of Anders, relieved to be getting away from her married boss turned lover; anxious at meeting Annick again. Marina had once been a resident in obstetrics under Annick-until a disastrous encounter with a patient. After arriving in Manaus, Marina has to piece together Annick’s whereabouts. She has left few clues about where in the Amazon she is and which tribe’s fertility she is studying. Marina is tenacious in her efforts and comes to startling conclusions as she closes in on Annick. Patchett has the ability to make readers forget they are not actually in the Amazon. Readers will be left in a state of wonder by the end of this novel.
Can't get enough of Ann Patchett? Here are some other works
Run - Struggling with single parenthood and a scandal that cost him his political career, Bernard Doyle fights his disappointment with his adopted sons' career choices before a violent event forces the members of his family to reconsider their priorities.
The Magician's Assistant - After the death of a homosexual magician, his female assistant journeys from Los Angeles to Nebraska in search of the man's hidden past and discovers his estranged family, as well as the love she has always been denied
Taft - John Nickel, an African American blues musician managing a Memphis bar, hires a white brother and sister even though he knows they mean trouble, as he pines to be reunited with his son.
What Now? - An inspirational primer based on the author's 2006 commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College discusses how to manage life's crossroads, recounts times of struggle from her own life, and celebrates the benefits of not knowing what is to come.